Whatever Happened to Building a Metaverse for Education?

Remember all the hype around the metaverse in education?

Just two years ago it seemed like a 3D virtual realm for education was imminent: Facebook had changed its name to Meta, to signal its giant bet on the VR space, and it had launched TV ads showing classes happening in new immersive worlds; several college campuses started building replicas of their physical campuses in VR spaces, in part with money from Meta; and think tanks were issuing reports on how to best harness VR spaces for education. (EdSurge receives philanthropic support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which is co-owned by the CEO of Meta. Learn more about EdSurge ethics and policies here and supporters here.)

That buzz has all but vanished, especially when it comes to the idea of setting up shared virtual spaces like the ones imagined by the science fiction author who coined the term metaverse.

So what happened to the early education experiments in the metaverse, and what do those watching the space think is next?

To find out, we checked in with two experts for this week’s EdSurge Podcast — the same folks we had on as guests two years ago at the height of the metaverse craze. Those guests are Greg Heiberger, associate dean for academics and student success at South Dakota State University and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“I’m actually OK that a lot of the buzz is going somewhere else because I think it helps us to focus not on the shiny object … but on what really matters to us,” says Heiberger, whose university was one of those funded by Meta to make a campus in VR.

But he admits there are downsides, too.

“What’s heartbreaking is there was money, there was money flowing from Meta into education directly … and that tap has been pretty well closed, and that I think is tough,” he says.

Hirsh-Pasek notes that there have been important developments in VR even though they aren’t getting as much attention. For instance, she praised Apple’s recent product release of the Apple Vision Pro, which she says solves an important challenge of the technology by allowing users to opt to see a view of the outside world even while wearing the headset. In her testing of the device, she said she felt truly immersed in a demo that allowed users to appear to walk among dinosaurs. “But basically you’d be watching an Imax movie,” she said of the device’s strengths. “And for education, we need more. We need interactivity. And it must be social.” Her takeaway for now is the device “is built for entertainment,” but that her “dream” is that more social aspects can be added later.

Both experts still see important applications for VR in education, and for a concept like a metaverse eventually emerging and bringing more experiential learning to students. And they are calling on tech companies to seek input from educators and education researchers as they continue to develop the hardware that will make such virtual worlds possible.

Hear their experiences and predictions on this week’s episode. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the player on this page.